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What Makes a High Performance Wellness Plan?

By John H. Capobianco, President and CMO of HCIactive

Wellness plans have become a necessary component of corporate health benefits. Yet not all wellness plans are equal. The benefits of wellness plans come faster and make a greater impact when the plan is designed to be what we call ‘high performance.’ These plans engage more directly and individually with the employee to signal that the plan is for them and tailored to their needs.

What qualities transform a wellness plan from ho hum to high performance? Consider these five:


Leaders of companies with High Performance Wellness Plans view these plans as an essential contribution to a productive, effective working environment. These leaders don’t just want to check a box. They actually want a culture of wellness, within which employees take steps to improve their physical, mental, and social health with the full support of their colleagues, bosses, and the company as a whole. To do that, executive leaders communicate through their actions and words. They make budgetary decisions that protect the effectiveness and integrity of their wellness initiatives. Perhaps more important, they take part! They show up at the wellness fairs, get their blood pressure checked and their blood glucose tested; they show up for lunchtime Yoga and the company fun-run. In other words, they literally walk the talk of wellness.


Anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking or lose ten pounds knows how hard it can be. Even the most motivated people could use a little help. High Performance Wellness Plans provide that help at various stages of an employee’s wellness journey.

As a first step, these plans provide in-house screening events where employees can check their weight and blood pressure, as well as get basic blood tests to check levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood glucose. Once participants have that data, they are eligible to meet with a health coach who can provide practical advice and a personalized plan. For those employees who are not yet ready for one-on-one support, or just want a refresher, there are health education seminars or even digital coaching options available to provide generalized advice.

High Performance Wellness Plans also provide a range of tools for ongoing support and day-to-day feedback, including online integration with the most popular fitness apps and wearable devices.

Last, the best wellness plans understand that wellness can be social. People who exercise with a partner are less likely to bail on a workout; people who make a public commitment to losing weight or quitting smoking are more likely to meet their goals. High Performance Wellness Plans incorporate these social nudges to help people stick to their plan.


Wellness plans are driven by the engine of human motivation and engagement. When employees see their colleagues participating and reaping positive results, they get motivated to take part too.

"...plans designed with an incentive achieve a 60% participation rate, compared to 24% average participation for those plans with no incentive."

How to get that participant base? Research shows that plans that provide incentives for participation reach higher participation rates. For example, an HCIactive study of 116 employers showed that plans designed with an incentive achieve a 60 percent participation rate, compared to a 24 percent average participation for those plans with no incentive.

The most effective incentive plans have a monetary component. Some plans give participants a gift card or make a contribution to a health savings or flexible spending account as a reward for getting certain screenings or reaching a health goal. Still other plans give the incentive first, but with the stipulation that it will be taken away if participants don’t fulfill certain requirements within a given timeframe. The experience of our corporate clients suggest that a $75 monetary incentive is the threshold level beyond which companies see relevant increases in participation.


Even healthy people generate a lot of medical data, from lab results and x-rays to pharmacy prescriptions. The problem for patients is that all this information resides in different systems that the patient can’t necessarily access. High Performance Wellness Plans resolve some of that pain. They provide an integrated platform where participants can access data from different sources—your general practitioner, your radiologist, your pharmacy—and even integrate it with data from proprietary sources like fitness apps.

For the employer, High Performance Wellness Plans provide access to anonymized, aggregate data about participation rates, the results from incentive plan effectiveness, and health outcomes. Employers can use this data for long-term plan design and management.


Companies change over time. They engage in mergers or acquisitions; they develop new product lines and expand their talent base. High Performance Wellness Plans should grow with them. They need to be able to handle more scale as a company’s employee base grows or becomes more diverse.

Health provision is also changing. The proliferation of walk-in urgent care facilities, mobile clinics, and pharmacy-based labs are just some examples of the decentralization of health care. Within this changing environment, employers are playing a more active role in providing health resources for their employees. Employers such as Walmart and Lowe’s, for example, are contracting directly with care providers, a trend which is expected to grow in the coming years. In response to this trend, several of our Health System clients are rolling out new direct contracting models for employers in their regions.

Beyond that, companies need to be able to add new functions such as access to electronic records from multiple sources, and integrate with new online tools such as provider electronic medical records (EMR) systems, as doctors come online and are able to share data across digital channels.


As wellness plans become a near-ubiquitous addition to corporate health benefits, plan design becomes more important. Companies can differentiate their plans and engage their employees by paying attention to small details that make a large difference. Clear executive leadership commitment, tools and resources for increasing employee engagement, helpful data integration, and the ability to grow and change with your population will allow your plan to produce the benefits that High Performance Wellness Plans are capable of. Make sure you push the limits to lead the way in driving change in the industry.

About the Author

John Capobianco is President and Chief Marketing Officer of HCIactive, a provider of advanced health planning services. John has more than thirty years of executive experience growing large companies such as Hewlett-Packard, SAP, and Computer Associates; as well as high-growth companies such as BlueStone Software and MEDecision in the IT infrastructure and healthcare IT industries.


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